The controversy of the Tiger Mother
I was listening to BBC Radio4 the other day and I heard a discussion on Woman’s Hour between a woman named Amy Chua and Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer.
Before I go on, I have to say that I love British radio. When I lived in America, there wasn’t a wide range of radio to listen to. It was mostly pop and rock. To listen to classical music, you either had to go AM, which sounded like it was being broadcast from as far away as Mars, or have a CD in your car. In contrast, the British have raised good radio to an art form. There’s interesting discussion, a wide range of music including classical; there’s comedy; and there’s even Elaine Paige on Sundays with her showtunes hour on Radio 2. I love it.
But back to the discussion on Radio4. They were talking about a book called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. From what they were saying, I quickly learned that Chinese-American author Amy Chua had written this book describing how Chinese parents achieve outstanding results and accomplishments from their children.
What especially caught my attention, however, was a comment that Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer, a child development expert, made about an excerpt in the book. In the excerpt, Chua talks about how, on her birthday one year, both of her girls made her a card. The issue that Chua had with the cards was that they were considerably substandard and little thought had gone into them. If you picture the cards, they were the equivalent of a smiley face being drawn on the front with “Happy birthday” written on the inside. Considering the fact that Chua would spend ages planning parties for the girls when it was their birthdays and put considerable thought into the event, she thought she deserved better. So she demanded the girls go back to the drawing board and make her better, more thoughtful birthday cards.
Ms Hartley-Brewer was appalled by this. In contrast, I thought to myself, “Good on the mother!” so I immediately ordered the book on Amazon.
I’ve been reading many books on the subject of parenting recently and this is by far one of the best written. And also by far the most controversial. You only need to read through a couple of the reviews on Amazon to see that this book has obviously hit a tender spot in the parenting world.
In short, Chua tells the story of how she pushed her two girls to musical and academic greatness through austere measures. On the first page, she sets out her rules for parenting. “Sophia and Louisa were never allowed to:
- Attend a sleepover
- Have a playdate
- Be in a school play
- Complain about not being in a school play
- Watch TV or play computer games
- Choose their own extracurricular activities
- Get any grade less than an A
- Not be the number 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
- Play any instrument other than the piano or violin
- Not play the piano or violin”
The rest of the book deals with how she implemented her regime and helped her girls to become great achievers at very young ages.
Chua has received a lot of flack for sharing her story, with people accusing her of torturing her children and living vicariously through her girls’ achievements. Perhaps she did. But I have to give her some credit: Sophia and Louisa both sound like they’ve become pretty exceptional young women.
Here’s the thing: how many times have you heard someone complain that they wish their parents hadn’t let them quit piano lessons or ballet or tennis? To become truly good at something, you need to work hard at it. End of story.
Don’t worry – I’m not saying that I’ll be employing Chua’s methods for raising my little Abdul to greatness, but I’m also not going to be the kind of parent that lets her children languish in front of the television or be a quitter. And regarding school plays, I definitely want Abdul to take part. Performance is great for confidence.
You see, as it turns out, I’m a Tiger Mother, too. This refers to the year in which Chua was born in the Chinese calendar: the Year of the Tiger. A quick bit of online research brings up the following characteristics for a Tiger: courage, vehemence, self-reliance, friendliness, hopefulness, resilience, vanity and disregard. Tigers are “incorrigibly competitive”, which describes me down to a T. I’ve actually forbidden myself from playing the game Risk because the last time I played it in 1997, I almost killed somebody. On top of this, I’m also a Leo, which is clearly the best zodiac sign to be (a very Leo thing to say). Perhaps I should just have some whiskers medically implanted and lick my child clean instead of bothering with a bath.
Anyway, I highly recommend reading this book. Whether you agree with Chua or not, it’s a good autobiography, funny at times, and always interesting. And you never know: it may help you release some of your own inner tiger.